These guineafowl have tiny brains and elaborate social networks — Sound familiar?

James Klarevas

❝ A new study published this week in the journal Current Biology about an East African bird species with a pretty small brain reveals that animals may not necessarily necessarily need to be smart to be social…

❝ Farine and his colleagues decided to study the gorgeous blue-feathered, turkey-like species in depth…They found that the local population was divided into 18 distinct social groups numbering between 18 and 65 birds each…

The groups were remarkably stable, anchored by several breeding pairs. They also found that certain groups liked hanging out with one another, meeting up at certain times of the day and around certain features in the landscape. Some groups would also spend most of the day off on their own, then meet up with another pack of bird friends to roost at night. In other words, they exhibit the same type of multilevel society as big-brained mammals…

❝ Farine (says)…these particular birds aren’t particularly intelligent.

“They don’t only have small brains relative to mammals,” he says. “They also have quite small brains relative to other birds.”

Social networking may be more of an elemental survival skill than something requiring smarts. RTFA. Reflect on critters who dash around trying to be recognized as members of the “correct” group.

Survey says American adults flunk basic science

Are Americans flunking science? A new national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences and conducted by Harris Interactive® reveals that the U.S. public is unable to pass even a basic scientific literacy test.

Over the past few months, the American government has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars for economic bailout plans. While this spending may provide a short-term solution to the country’s economic woes, most analysts agree that the long-term solution must include a transition to a more knowledge-based economy, including a focus on science, which is now widely recognized as a major driver of innovation and industry. Despite its importance to economic growth, environmental protection, and global health and energy issues, scientific literacy is currently low among American adults. According to the national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences:

Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water.*
Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

There has never been a greater need for investment in scientific research and education,” said Academy Executive Director Dr. Gregory Farrington. “Many of the most pressing issues of our time—from global climate change to resource management and disease—can only be addressed with the help of science.”

Drop by the Academy’s website, look around, take the test. Think about prompting your peers and government to move on up to the 21st Century.

Artificial DNA points the way to alien life

A strange, new genetic code a lot like that found in all terrestrial life is sitting in a beaker full of oily water in a laboratory in Florida…the first example of an artificial chemical system that is capable of Darwinian evolution.

The system is made of the four molecules that are the basic building blocks of our DNA along with eight synthetic modifications of them, said biochemist Steven A. Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution.

The main difference between the synthetic molecules and those that make up conventional DNA is that Benner’s molecules cannot make copies of themselves, although that is just “a couple of years” away, he said…

The research resulted from a NASA-funded project to try to understand what life might look like beyond Earth. Such life might live in water, but it could also live in liquid nitrogen or methane (as speculated for Saturn’s moon Titan) and in environments with extremely high or low acidity…

Not the first researcher to accomplish this – not the last. There are geneticists like Craig Ventner who probably have bigger budgets nowadays. 🙂

Sooner or later, experiments like this will grow into advanced stages, living organisms, and our politicians and priests will all get their knickers in a bunch over it.